Bodies and Souls

InterPlay fuses movement and storytelling to create spiritual discipline


| Utne Reader September / October 2007



The Minneapolis dance studio is packed with people of various ages and sizes. Some seem wrapped in reverie; others are intensely focused on one another. Groupings of bodies develop and dissolve in motions that look a bit like dance, a bit like theater, and a bit like aerobics. But it's not a rehearsal or an exercise class--it's movement for its own sake. There's a feeling of cohesion, of something being cooperatively created.

This is InterPlay--a fusion of movement, storytelling, and interpersonal awareness that, according to its founders, is also a spiritual discipline. Practiced in some 120 cities in the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, Germany, and Thailand, the American-grown alternative to yoga provides both a way for adults to play and a serious tool for personal and social change.

InterPlay is the brainchild of Cynthia Winton-Henry and Phil Porter, two modern dancers with an affinity for matters of the spirit. In the late 1970s they were members of Body and Soul, a dance company that taught and performed in Bay Area churches. 'Movement was an important part of our theological understanding,' says Porter. 'There are elements of the spirit that are beyond words, and one way to contact them is through the body.'

When the company folded in 1988, Porter pursued solo projects and Winton-Henry followed her Christian calling all the way into the ministry. She soon realized, though, that her denomination defined clerical dignity in ways that bridled her dancer's body. 'I was always getting into trouble for moving even a little bit,' she says with a smile. She reconnected with Porter, and the pair decided to explore the intersections of movement and spirit beyond the boundaries of religion.

Both dancers enjoyed group improvisation. 'Acting in the moment, I was accessing a lot of information that was in my body and doing it with others,' says Winton-Henry. 'I loved that.' They believed that a practice based on these values and focused on experience rather than performance could change people's lives.

Their choreographic training suggested that structure was needed, too. 'If you want to play and create with others,' Porter explains, 'it helps if the elements you are playing with are limited.' They developed what they call 'forms,' which became the building blocks of InterPlay.